Friday, March 21, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Citing Defense of Ethnic Russians in Crimea, Small Nationality in Russian Far East Demands Moscow Intervene

Paul Goble

                Staunton, March 21 – That Vladimir Putin’s occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea has opened a Pandora’s Box is, as Russian commentators say, “clear to the unaided eye.” But one problem that the Kremlin probably didn’t anticipate is that a small non-Russian nationality in the Russian Far East would call on Moscow to intervene to protect their ethnicity.

Today, Leonid Sungorkin, the president of the Khabarovsk Kray Union for the Defendse of the Cuture, Rights, and Freedoms of the Indigenous Numerically Small Peoples of the Pri-Amurye, announced that his group plans to stage a demonstration like those other residents for the defense of the rights of ethnic Russians in Crimea (

            He said that his group plans a picket of about 20 people because in Khabarovsky nothing is being done to protect the rights of the numerically small indigenous peoples like the Nanays, who number about 11,000, and implied that talk about the rights of ethnic Russians in Crimea had inspired his group to act.

            Among the slogans the picketers plan to carry, he continued, are the following: “The Amur without the Nanays will Die,” “We Lived, We Live, and We Will Live!” “The Nanay Language – the Language of Communication,” and “The Aborigines are People and Not [Government Creations]” (

            In addition to carrying and chanting these slogans, the group plans to dance and to distribute materials to local journalists, in short, Sungorkin, who is half Nanay, said, “to do everything in order to attract the attention of the authorities to the issue of the development of the national culture of the Nanay people.”

            “We have no place of our own where we can assemble,” he added, noting that “naturally,” after the events in Crimea, “people are agitated and asking why” things should be this way.  He said the group had appealed to officials but received no answer, and they had desired “to go out on the street; otherwise nothing will be changed.”

            The Kremlin undoubtedly was pleased when ethnic Russians went into the streets of Khabarovsk, as they have in other Russian cities, to celebrate the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation.  But it may be less than thrilled if non-Russian groups such as the Nanay copy that technique to call attention to their plight.

            But what the Nanay are planning, other non-Russian groups are likely to copy, the latest indication that Putin’s ethnicization of politics in the Russian Federation may not always have the consequences that he and his Russian nationalist backers hope. Instead, his policies could have exactly the opposite impact.

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